By now we all know the story of how there is actually a guy named Kenny Kramer who lived across the hall from Larry David and who became the inspiration for Michael Richards’ character in Seinfeld. But there are plenty of other fictional characters on television and in movies that are secretly based actual people who live among us (or once did). Some of these muses are pretty surprising! In fact, you may want to ask all your writer friends if you’re in any of their screenplays and start demanding royalties now, because if their character ends up as popular as the ones we’ve rounded up are, you’re definitely going to want a cut of the dough.
Abed Nadir from Community, based on Abed Gheith
Gheith, a friend of Community showrunner Dan Harmon, has worked on many series for Channel 101, a monthly film festival in Los Angeles that puts out serialized five-minute television shows. He met Harmon through his work there, and even auditioned for the part of Abed, which eventually went to Danny Pudi. Gheith is happy to see the show succeed, though as he told Comedy Central in an interview, there are differences between him and the character: “I think I’m a bit more aware socially. I can tell when people are uncomfortable… It seems like the one on the show has no idea that he’s around other people.” Judging from last week’s amazing Abed-centric episode, we’d have to agree with him there.
Lucy from 50 First Dates, based on Michelle Philpots
50 First Dates seemed so unbelievable, didn’t it? How likely is it that someone would have her short-term memory erased to the point that she was living the same day every day? Well, don’t voice those concerns to Michelle Philpots, a British woman who lost her short-term memory in 1994 as a result of two car crashes and who has to wake up every morning to a wealth of post-it notes telling her what to expect. She doesn’t even remember her marriage to a man named Ian, although, as he told the Daily Mail , “I’ve known her for 25 years so I am lucky we met before she had the accidents because she can remember me. Luckily we have lots of photos to remind her, otherwise she would forget it all.” Well, that’s a little less creepy than the end of the Adam Sandler movie, we guess.
Lieutenant Patrick “Maverick” Mitchell from Top Gun, inspired by Randy “Duke” Cunningham
If you’re from California, you might know Duke Cunningham as a former congressman from your state. However, before that he was in the US Navy for 20 years, and he and his Radar Incercept Officer were the only two Navy Aces in the entire Vietnam War. Some of their maneuvers directly inspired the scene in Top Gun where Maverick defeats Jester, and later an enemy fighter, by using his brakes. Well played, Duke! Too bad you support Newt Gingrich.
Allison Dubois from Medium, based on (a real person named) Allison Dubois
No offense to Patricia Arquette, but considering what the character’s real-life inspiration looks like, they could have at least gotten her a cooler haircut. I mean, look at those Rogue-style streaks! That is way more awesome than the mom-bob the TV Dubois has. Skeptics will complain about the veracity of the real Dubois‘s claims to be a medium and whether or not her contributions actually affect the outcomes of the cases she’s helped with, but you can’t deny that she is cool.
Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers, based on Donald Sinclair
The uptight, misanthropic hotel owner that John Cleese created for the British show Fawlty Towers was apparently inspired by a real man named Donald Sinclair, who the Monty Python gang encountered during a stay at the Gleneagles hotel in Torquay, England. Apparently, he threw Eric Idle’s suitcase over a wall in the garden because he thought it contained a bomb, and would often toss maps at the troupe. Cleese was so amused that he borrowed from the hotel owner several times; his character in Rat Race was called “Donald Sinclair” as well.
Ali G from Da Ali G Show, based on Tim Westwood
The satirical character that launched Sacha Baron Cohen’s career was actually inspired by BBC Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, who, despite being the middle-class son of the Anglican bishop of Petersborough, speaks in a strange dialect that emulates black British hip-hop culture. Apparently the accent has confused guests on Westwood’s show in the past, including the American rapper KRS-One. Let’s hope Tim’s at least a little more informed on world events than Ali G.
The Hanson Brothers from Slap Shot, based on the Carlson Brothers
Widely regarded as one of the best hockey movies of all time (a category that is admittedly pretty small), Slap Shot featured the antics of three rough-and-tumble players who break out into fights before the national anthem is even played. They’re based on real players, the Carlson brothers from Minnesota. In fact, two of the brothers played the Hanson brothers in the film — the third was unable to due to his hockey schedule, so they replaced him with another player-turned-actor.
Don Draper from Mad Men, based on Draper Daniels
More than just Don’s namesake, Draper Daniels was a legend in the world of advertising during the ’60s, though he was based in Chicago with the firm Leo Burnett and not in New York with the rest of the Madison Avenue elite. Apparently he was much more devoted to his wife, Myrna, than Don is, too — he never cheated and even quit drinking when she asked (although the story of their marriage is more than a little disturbing in other ways).
Olivia Pope from Scandal, based on Judy Smith
The new political drama from Grey’s Anatomy show runner Shonda Rhimes is about Olivia Pope, a totally awesome crisis management expert who used to work for the president. Lawyer Judy Smith is a totally awesome crisis management expert who used to work for the president. This is not a coincidence, and did we mention that it’s totally awesome? We bet that lady’s got so many ridiculous stories about the people who run our government. In fact, let’s spend every episode trying to guess which political leader each character is based on.
Jimmy Dugan from A League of Their Own, based on Jimmie Foxx
Unlike Dugan, whose Rockford Peaches lost to the Racine Belles in A League of Their Own, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team that Foxx coached actually was beat out by the real-life Peaches in the 1952 finals. Before that, though, he was considered one of the most powerful hitters of his day, first for the Phildelphia A’s and then for the Red Sox. He was second only to Babe Ruth on the all-time runs list until he was knocked back by Willie Mays, and then even further foiled by his alleged drinking problem. Too bad he didn’t have Madonna and Geena Davis to help him break that ugly habit.